It's time to revisit the UW Dawg Pound Roundtable, and joining Sundodger & I in this edition is special guest Jack Follman from Pacific Takes and our own Ben Knibbe. On to the questions:
What has you most worried about the match-up with Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl? And what gives you the most confidence about the UW's chances in the game?
kirkd: This is a really interesting match-up for a variety of reasons - there are a number of factors you can point to of strength vs. weakness, weakness vs. strength, strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. The things that concern me are our mediocre (at best) pass rush vs. their really good pass protection, their terrific pass defense vs. our (at times) struggling passing game, their strong pass rush vs. our poor pass protection, their efficient and effective run game vs. our not so good run defense, our difficulties (particularly this year) playing away from Seattle and slow starts, and Chris Petersen's exceptional track record in games where he has extra time to prepare.
What gives me confidence: Boise State's offense runs more towards the conventional/pro-style side of things than the wide-open spread attacks of Oregon or Arizona, and (at least this year) Wilcox has had better success with the Huskies defending those types of offenses; the Broncos are good against the run, but there's reason to think that Washington can be effective on the ground; Sark has also shown he can wring good performances out of his team in bowl games; and simply the qualitative difference between the level of competition each team has faced - Washington has had a significantly harder schedule, and I think they are more tested. I'm also encouraged by the result of our mutual opponent game, as we ground out an ugly but good win over an under-rated San Diego State at home, while the Broncos lost despite playing on the familiar Blue turf of their home stadium to that same Aztec squad.
Ben Knibbe: I am worried for the matchup of their top-ranked pass-defense against Washingon's struggling-at-best passing offense. As Jack said, the solid cornerbacks of Boise State are part of the engine that drives their pass-D. Could the All-American tight end have another great day because he is the only person with the ability to get open? Or will the linebackers and safeties be able to just focus on him? It will be a matchup to watch, one that I don't think will end up favorably.
As for something that could give me hope? Boise State runs a pro-style offense, which has been the type of offense the Huskies are able to stop. I think that they can at the very least slow the Boise State assault, which gives me hope.
Jack Follman: I'm worried about the Boise State cornerbacks against the Husky receivers and how that will allow for the Broncos to gameplan against the Husky offense. BSU has a couple of really good corners and the Husky receivers other than Kasen Williams (And sometimes him too) have had trouble getting open all year and Price has had trouble hitting them when they actually do get open. I'm worried that they will do the same thing the Cougars did to the Husky offense but with better players - sell out to the run and dare the Huskies to beat them deep.
The fact that the Broncos run a standard offense gives me the most confidence. Any kind of specialty offense (Oregon, Arizona, even WSU) drove the Huskies crazy, they basically shut down every standard offense they faced all year except LSU's which was more of a result of how much their offensive struggles kept the defense on the field.
Sundodger: I'm most worried about being able to contain Boise State on the ground on defense, and being able to have a credible passing game on offense.
Boise State's offense isn't as prolific as it's been in years past, but they average over 170 yards per game on the ground. As much improvement as the Husky defense has shown this year, they still give up way too many rushing yards. I think that has helped play into their lack of pass rush to a degree as well, as the UW has had next to no ability to dictate a game from the defensive side of the ball. It's hard to get a great feel for how potent Boise State's offense really is due to the quality of their opponents, but even the worst teams in the Pac 12 have mostly been able to run at will against the Dawgs.
Statistically, Boise State's pass defense is great, but again, it's hard to say how much of that is their play and how much is the quality of their opponents. Regardless, the Dawgs haven't been great through the air. Production from Kasen Williams and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is almost a given, but enough time has passed since August that someone needs to step up on the outside and take some of the pressure off of those two. Stepping up in 2013 would be great, but getting started on Saturday would be even better.
I'm confident that the Dawgs have more talent on the roster than do the Broncos. I'm also convinced that this is a bigger game to them than it is to the BSU players, who are making a third consecutive trip to Las Vegas. I hope, more than believe, that Sarkisian will have the team ready to play from the outset like he has in the last two bowl games. I think the Dawgs will be able to move the ball on the ground, and that will be enough to grind out a win.
The last two seasons, the results of the bowls have been used by Husky fans to gauge their expectations for the next season. For a variety of reasons, the bowls haven't been any sort of reliable indicator of anything, really. So, how important is what happens on Saturday to you, really? Does a good showing validate your feelings of progress, or wash away some of the inconsistencies we saw all season? Does a bad showing wipe away any incremental progress made in 2012, or reinforce the doubts you have about Sarkisian? Or, is it just the final game of the 2012 season that leads into the offseason of 2013?
Sundodger: I obviously want the Dawgs to win, because I hate it when they lose. But for the team, I think the script for the season has largely been written, and I don't think that a win or a loss will have much effect on them moving into 2013. I don't think the outcome will affect recruiting either way, either.
The impression that I get from fans is that this game will only have a minor impact on the perception of the season in the offseason. To those confident in Sarkisian, a win gives the Dawgs 8 for the season and continues the incremental progress the program is making. A loss dampens that some, but I don't really think it's going to be enough to merit a significant change in the opinion that the team is moving forward. To those that have already decided Sarkisian is not the coach that returns the Huskies to prominence or are at the very least wavering in their view of his trajectory, a win will simply be another example of the inconsistencies of the 2012 version of the Dawgs; they can win big games but seem prone to dropping easy ones and getting blown out. A loss may bring out a few pitch forks, but will definitely make the expectations for 2013 very high. To me, this one game doesn't impact my perception of the season all that much. The stage was set for 2013 a couple of years ago, and that's always been the season I've pointed to.
kirkd: I don't think there's any way to ignore the results of this game when evaluating the season as a whole. Psychologically, 8-5 looks significantly better than 7-6, and wiping away the bitter taste of the last game will prevent the program from heading into the off-season on a negative roll. For me personally, it probably won't affect my feelings a great deal regarding this season, but I sense I'm in the minority on that - Husky fans in general want to see tangible signs of progress, and 8 wins is better than 7; never mind the challenges this team faced with regards to injuries and whatnot. I've been consistent in saying I think next season is the year when things align for this program to be a serious contender, and while there are still some major question marks going into the off-season (most notably regarding our OL), I still feel that way. Short of getting blown out, I don't think my opinion of the season will change radically with the result of this game.
Ben Knibbe: The showing in the bowl will do little to change my opinion of the season. Regardless of how it ends, it is just a single game. One game can only show so much. It may be a more important game than the rest, but it is just the final game, as you said. Husky football has provoked Jekyll and Hyde out of the fanbase with its play thus far, and while this game will decide the fate of this season for many, it won't do so for me.
Jack Follman: Well for next season, this one will definitely mean something because they are facing off with Boise State to open next season and both teams are fairly young so I think the game will be very similar to next season's opener.
In the bigger picture, I think it will be a great signifying moment that the program is still heading in the right direction under Sarkisian as I thought this would be their toughest season since Sark's first due to the loss of so many good players last season and they ended up winning the most games they have during his tenure. A loss definitely won't be a great sign and will really hurt because I'm sure they are trying to get a good win to make everyone forget about the Apple Cup. A loss will continue to show that the Huskies don't play well outside of Seattle and the fears that Sark is a Koetter, Dorrell, Mike Stoops type coach will continue to build with a third-straight seven-win season.
Is there a kind of play that you would like to see the Huskies run that you think could be effective against Boise State? (Play-action passes, screen passes, read option, etc...) On the flip side, is there a kind of play that you would like to see them put on the shelf?
Jack Follman: I don't understand why the Huskies haven't thrown very many jump balls to Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins all year. The limited times they have it has always seemed to work and it could really open things up if they could hit a couple, especially early.
I would ecstatic if I never saw the Huskies throw a bubble screen again or any kind of sideways pass. They are rarely executed well, have a high chance for disaster and even when they are executed, they peak out at about a three to four-yard gain.
Sundodger: I'd like to see the Dawgs attack the middle of the Boise defense through the air with the slot receivers and Sefarian-Jenkins. I'd like to see the offense play with a fullback and Price under center. And I'd like to see them push the tempo more than they have, especially if they manage to find a rhythm in the passing game. Some of their most productive spurts they've had have come out of the no-huddle drives, but even if they huddle, I'd like to see them work in and out of the huddle more quickly. That sense of urgency seems to help them focus a little more. I'd also like to see the Huskies attack Boise State down the field early. And as effective as he is at just about anything he does, I think Sefarian-Jenkins is at his most productive when he catches the ball running downfield as opposed to laterally toward the sideline. Defensively, I want to see the corners up tight and left alone to cover so the Dawgs can bring the safeties down in run support, and blitz more.
Although they don't show it all that much, the zone read is a waste since Price isn't a credible running threat. Other than one big play by Williams against Stanford, the quick lateral passing game hasn't produced enough to make it as big a staple as it is. Defensively, I don't like the flexed end look; there doesn't seem to be a ton of logic in putting your pass rushers that much further away from the ball.
kirkd: I admit to not watching Boise State this season other than about a quarter's worth vs. Michigan State, so I can't speak with any authority on match-up advantages we might have. So I'll resort to just talking about plays in general I'd like to see more of: more RB screens, more TE seam routes, more wheel routes (especially with Kendyl Taylor), a fly sweep. I'd actually like to see the end-around/pass trick play with Cody Bruns again because I think it could work - just not on the first play from scrimmage or right after a turnover.
I don't have many plays that I hate; I'm OK with the bubble screens and quick throws outside to Kasen or ASJ, since they have the physicality to get some yardage on their own, and especially in cases where the Broncos are giving a big cushion at the line; conversely, maybe it's time to play off that tendency and run a double-move where the WR fakes the quick throw then runs a fly route, KP pump fakes, and if the CB bites hard, throw long to a wide open receiver.
Ben Knibbe: As much as I hate the use of trick plays against Boise State, I think that the Huskies will be able to have success with a flea-flicker. Peterson's defense will be amped up to stop the run, our best weapon. Washington may be able to get a big play out of it.
I disagree with Jack's statement that the bubble screen needs to be shelved. I think that it will be a way to get the front seven of Boise State moving laterally. Passes made behind the line of scrimmage comprise about one-quarter of Washington's pass attempts. It is a way to stretch the defense horizontally because of Price's struggles to connect on the deep pass.
What needs to be shelved? Any passes that travel over 30 yards in the air directed towards Kasen Williams. Price is unable to find Williams on these deep passes, as he has proved time and time again. He has the ability to hit Mickens deep, and Seferian-Jenkins deep (if only on jump balls) and he needs to keep it that way. If Williams gets behind the defense he can stay there. Price will not hit him.
How much will Justin Wilcox's experience under Chris Peterson affect the game? Will it have an effect related little more than knowing weaknesses and strengths of each player in more detail than game-tape would show, or will Wilcox be able to predict play-calling to a degree? And, will it go both ways?
Jack Follman: I think it will have to have some kind of affect. It always seems like people try to play down these types of things and while I don't think it will be a drastic affect it has to at least just a little bit and I think if it does it will be in the Huskies favor.
Having worked directly with Peterson and basically having a unit practice every day against him for years, he has to know the tendencies of Peterson a little better than the average defensive coordinator. Having recruited and worked with some of Boise State's players he has to know some weaknesses and liabilities to exploit too.
On the other side, Boise State might be able to know what worked best against Wilcox' defenses since they practiced against them day after day for years.
Sundodger: Peterson and Wilcox might have some idea of the other's tendencies, and there's probably an amount of value to that. I'm not really sure how to quantify it, but there's definitely some. But there have been enough changes in staff and personnel for both coaches that familiarities are really only in a macro sense. Also, both of these coaches show a wide variety of looks and schemes during the course of the season, further making it difficult to attack tendencies. There might be some amount of gamesmanship that goes in to each respective game plan, but when it comes right down to it, Peterson will create a plan to attack Washington's weaknesses, and Wilcox will come up with a plan to take away Boise State's strengths.
kirkd: Logic would dictate that from a play-calling tendency standpoint, it's probably a wash. And besides, good coaches should be able to pick up on tendencies anyway via film study. The UW might have a slight edge in terms of personnel knowledge, but remember that Wilcox last coached at Boise State in 2009, so he'd only have first-hand observations of 4th & 5th year players on their roster. I think it's a fun side story to the game, but chances are it will have little actual impact on the result.
Those are our answers - as always, chime in below in the comments for your views, and if you are interested in taking part in the next one, shoot me a message.